Scottish inmates could be allowed to Skype their families


SCOTTISH inmates could be allowed to Skype their families from jail under new plans being considered by prison bosses.

The Scottish Prison Service is currently undertaking a project to look at enhancing prisoner access to IT and to improve communication with their families.

But critics have hit out at the plans, saying it will make Scottish jails feel “more like home” than a “place to fear”.


One option being considered by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is a “prisoner’s telephone service, video-conference facilities and secure messaging.”

The move comes after prison chief Colin McConnell, Scottish Prison Service chief executive,  said inmates should have access to mobile phones in their cells.

Earlier this year McConnell insisted that phones can reduce the risk of re-offending by helping prisoners keep in touch with their family.

Scottish Prison staff are also carrying out a review across all its prisons to see if it is feasible to limit access to technology, including TVs, to certain times of day.

Prisoners in some of Scotland’s jails currently enjoy en-suite bathrooms, satellite TV and keys to their cells.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Our motivation should be how to make prisoners’ time inside more worthwhile.

“But instead of suggesting full-time work, which would boost their own rehabilitation chances and give something back to society, proposals such as this are being floated.

“There are perfectly adequate visiting time slots available, and this latest idea is moving things in the wrong direction.

“Jails are supposed to be a deterrent, so making them more like home will do nothing to make them a place to fear.”


In a joint statement, the Scottish Government and SPS said: “There is currently a project underway with SPS that is looking at how to enhance prisoner access to IT.”

Prison chief Colin McConnell caused controversy earlier this year by saying inmates should have phones in their cells.

The Scottish Prison Service chief executive insisted that phones can reduce the risk of re-offending by helping prisoners keep in touch with their family.

McConnell, 52, told Holyrood’s justice committee that he is a “fan of TVs in cells” and believes it brings “a load of positives”.

Last month prison chiefs came under fire after dishing out medals to some of Scotland’s most notorious inmates at their own Olympic Games.

Killers, kidnappers and drug barons larked around in wheelchairs and wore blindfolds at the paralympics event at open Castle Huntly prison near Dundee.

Criminals uploaded pictures of themselves taking part to their Facebook pages.


  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this important issue. Families Outside wholeheartedly supports the Scottish Prison Service’s plans to consider improved use of IT in prisons, particularly in relation to family contact. Let me explain why.

    Placement in prison is a punishment; the prison sentence should be the source of fear, not the prison. The punishment is the lack of freedom; everything else must be about preventing future victims – something best achieved by preparing prisoners to live law-abiding lives after release.

    Telephones, TVs, and video-conferencing facilities all help the prisoner to remain connected to society. If we disconnect people entirely, there is little chance of them successfully re-engaging in society on release. Of course, there must be monitors and checks when it comes to the use of technology in prisons (watching TV 24 hours a day isn’t good for anyone), but a complete denial of these provisions is both short-sighted and counter-productive. Further, imprisonment is meant to punish the guilty, not the innocent: the children and families of prisoners should not suffer the consequences of an offence they did not commit any more than anyone else.

    As a point of note, Colin McConnell proposed the installation of telephones in prison cells, not mobile phones. This proposal is something we support, as land-line telephones are more easily monitored and controlled, and in-cell telephones reduce the temptation to smuggle in mobile phones.

    We agree with John Lamont’s view that time in prison should be worthwhile. We disagree, however, that full-time work is the only worthwhile activity. Improving prisoners’ contact with their families is at least as worthwhile: prisoners who remain in close contact with their families are up to six times less likely to reoffend. It is a sobering statistic, therefore, that more than 50% of prisoners lose contact with their families during their time in custody.

    Prison visits can be very difficult for families due to long distances and expense. Supplementing visits through Skype would make a huge difference to families. Children are often the hidden victims of our criminal justice system, serving their own silent sentence. Regular contact with their parent can make a significant difference to a child’s development, academic progress, and emotional wellbeing. Skype enables contact in a way that minimises disruption and keeps costs down for families. Indeed, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended video links as an important means of supplementing face-to-face visits for children of prisoners. Such contact is especially important for families who are unable to visit, such as in the case of foreign national prisoners. Skype can also be used for parents’ evenings and engagement with other professionals in the community. Everything in prison should be about re-entering society positively, and we now have a range of technology available to help us be creative in how we do that.

    Given that Scotland has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in Western Europe, perhaps it is time that we asked questions and reimagined our approach. Families Outside applauds the openness of the Scottish Prison Service to do exactly that, and initiatives such as the use of Skype in prisons go a long way to strengthen vital links for prisoners in their inevitable return to the community.

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